On Thursday, a federal judge in Virginia declared laws prohibiting federally licensed firearm dealers from selling handguns to young adults unconstitutional, striking down long-held federal regulations that prevent the sale of handguns to those aged 18-21. The decision comes amidst a debate over gun reform laws in the wake of multiple mass shootings. The ruling follows a significant Supreme Court ruling last year, in which the court’s conservative justices expanded the right to carry a handgun in public.
U.S. District Judge Robert Payne ruled that the “interlocking collection” of federal law and regulations that prohibit the sale of handguns to those aged 18, 19, or 20 infringes upon the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Payne added that “If the court were to exclude 18-to-21-year-olds from the Second Amendment’s protection, it would impose limitations on the Second Amendment that do not exist with other constitutional guarantees.”
The Justice Department is expected to appeal the decision and file for a stay that would prevent Payne’s ruling from taking immediate effect. It’s important to note that, under longstanding law, legal adults under the age of 21 could have a parent purchase a weapon for them, or they could buy a handgun from a private dealer, but not a federally licensed dealer.
The plaintiff in the case, John Corey Fraser, was 20 years old when he tried to purchase a handgun from a federally licensed dealer in Virginia and was turned away. The ensuing lawsuit specifically challenged regulations from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as the Gun Control Act of 1968.
Payne referred to the Supreme Court’s opinion in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen last year in his ruling. The majority opinion, by Justice Clarence Thomas, states that constitutional rights are enshrined within the scope of how they were understood at the time of writing.
Payne said that no historical consensus exists regarding whether 21 was the age of majority at the time of the U.S. founding, in relation to gun ownership. Payne pointed out that 18-year-olds were able to join militias. Payne’s decision has received criticism from gun violence prevention groups, which argue that the decision could put lives in danger.